Sunday, July 12, 2009

Leadership Day, 2009

Scott McLeod issued today to be the annual leadership day, encouraging bloggers everywhere to comment on leadership regarding today's schools (and more specifically, leadership's understanding of digital technologies). For those unfamiliar with Scott's work with CASTLE, his central premise is that a) we need to change drastically to move our schools into the 21st century, and b) the ones who have the most influence to change schools (administrators) are the ones that are least knowledgeable about technology.

And, Scott's absolutely correct. In part. Superintendents, principals, and curriculum directors do have the least amount of knowledge about digital technologies in the classroom. But that's only half the problem.

The other half is that technology coordinators--those that have the most influence over technology use itself--are not leaders. And what's more, even if administrators do become knowledgeable about the use of technology, they often become deferrential to technology coordinators who have their own vision of how technology will run in the district.

This happens much more than it should. I have had four conversations in the past month with administrators from districts who were eager to help teachers teach for the 21st century. After some initial talks, I asked the question, "What is your technology coordinator currently doing to help support these goals?" And, there is some uncomfortable silence, maybe even a subtle scoff. Which is as far as the conversation goes.

Below is a repost of my analysis of the issue, originally posted on 11/22/08:

The first thing to make clear is that, by and large, technology coordinators are doing a good job. From first-hand experience, I can vouch for the never-stop responsibilities of maintaining a district's technology. A colleague of mine said "You can throw many changes at teachers on a continual basis, but if you truly want to bring the system to its knees, take down the email server." Or as another one mentioned, "When hard drives crash, I truly get to see people at their worst."

There also are teachers doing a great job in the classroom, many taking it upon themselves to research the technology and experiment with ways to better use it to enhance learning. Some take it upon themselves to write grants for their classroom to add technology.

Neither of these are leadership. And, this is where most districts get stuck. This is isolated pockets of excellence, but without a central vision and leader to ensure the whole group is moving forward, these pockets won't go anywhere.

There are often two different technology coordinators that you will see in districts. When technology first emerged, there was one teacher who worked a little bit more with technology than others. As the district grew, the technology demands required time spent outside of the classroom to manage it, and the district often grabbed the one who dabbled the most with it. In many of our smaller and more rural districts, the technology coordinator is in this mode, a former teacher who has morphed into the manager of hardware and software. In addition, some larger districts have had the resources to fund a different type of position, an integration specialist. Once again, the premier technology-integrating teachers gravitated into those positions.

But larger districts reached a threshold when networking and database management became significant. It required specialization. And much like other companies, districts have been hiring network specialists to manage this sophistication.

Neither of these two groups, despite their talents, have been trained in leadership. And when there are some rare cases where technology management is naturally talented in leadership (Pella or Jefferson-Scranton, for example), those districts become leaders in the state.

Another way to look at it: when I went through my administrative graduate program through Viterbo, I was the only technology coordinator in the state doing so. My instructors were, for good reason, quite surprised to see someone like me, as were districts looking to hire an administrator.

A dynamic that is present in education is the one of control vs. influence. Take away for a second the negative connotations of the word "control". As people move out of the classroom into the realm of administration, they notice the control they had of managing every item that took place in their classroom was now sacrificed. Principals don't have a corresponding level of control in every corner of their building. They do, on the other hand, have influence. It becomes even more pronounced as one moves to superintendent. Good administrators understand this dynamic. They understand they have to sacrifice the control they once enjoyed to greater influence the learning community.

Both network specialists and integration specialists have great influence. Unfortunately, most see their job as one of great control. They don't have the skills to build consensus and human capacity the way an influential leader does.

The Iowa Core recommends that technology staff are part of the leadership teams planning the district's deployment of the core. I can say, both as someone who is working with Core leadership and technology staff, this isn't happening. With the Iowa Core, we have the capacity to bring about an avenue for digital curriculum adoption. But, imagine the roadblock when the leadership team determines it would like to go there without the technology coordinator at the table.

If a district is going to get to the digital curriculum, it would be truly beneficial to require administrative certification of its technology coordinator. This means we need a leadership academy to get them there. Even if it doesn't mean administrative certification, a CASTLE-type program for technology coordinators, possibly building off of the programs at UNI and Iowa State, but more geared for the district-level rather than the PhD.

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